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Saudi Arabia: Why it looks to a new future

The young Mohammad Bin Salman’s new role as Crown Prince will allow him bring innovative ideas to lead the kingdom to a new phase with confidence and opennness

Gulf News

The Saudis woke up last Wednesday morning to important news that would secure a stable future for Saudi Arabia.

King Salman Bin Abdul Aziz, 81, with the approval of 31 out of 34 members of the Allegiance Council, which is the body responsible for determining future succession to the throne, has appointed his son Mohammad, 31, as Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia.

This move was expected and speculated among elitist circles in the kingdom and beyond for months. The king’s decision resolved the matter: Prince Mohammad Bin Salman will be the next king of Saudi Arabia, where the youth constitute 70 per cent of the population.

Good news for Saudis

Why is this good news for Saudis and for friends of Saudi Arabia?

What the young prince, Mohammad Bin Salman, accomplished in two years is extraordinary. He has already made a significant difference in the Saudi mindset, especially in their view of the economy. The Saudis, who long viewed oil as their first and only economic pillar, are now talking positively and practically about the post-oil economy. The Saudi Vision 2030, adopted and managed by the young prince, promises Saudis of a major shift in their future. This vision will establish a different economic mentality than the Rentier state that prevailed during the past 60 years in Saudi society.

Socially, the Saudis have begun to see a different movement that is consistent with young people’s aspirations.

There is great openness to various entertainment projects. Today, you can enjoy various concerts, comedy shows and more in major cities.

The Saudis are waiting for the opening of movie theatres in Saudi cities, and this may happen any moment soon. Qualified Saudi women will be seen in key positions, in the public and private sectors, as the new Crown Prince has expressed his belief in the empowerment of women and youth. Most importantly, the confrontation of radical thoughts has begun through many key decisions whose results were immediately felt in the Saudi street.

Conspicuous by their absence

In April 2016, the Saudi government stripped its religious police, known as the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, of the power to arrest when carrying out duties and enforcing what they see as “Islamic law.”

“What the young prince, Mohammad Bin Salman, accomplished in two years is extraordinary."”
-Sulaiman Al Hattlan, Special to Gulf News
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Now, they have totally disappeared from streets, malls and public places. Last May in Riyadh, and in the presence of leaders from Muslim countries, King Salman and US President Donald Trump inaugurated the Global Centre for Combating Extremist Ideology (GCCEI) to fight extremism and Daesh ideology, intellectually and through social media.

It seems that Prince Mohammad understands his vision for the future of his country will not be realised while extremist religious thought dominates the Saudi street.

The young prince played a vital role in achieving all these important decisions, thus restoring the Saudis’ hope for a better future and enhancing their confidence in their country.

Saudi Arabia is an important player in the global economy as it possesses around 22 per cent of the world’s proven petroleum reserves and ranks as the largest exporter of petroleum.

The kingdom is a key ally of the US in the Middle East, which is often reflected in the stability of the region, and is an important centre for the Islamic world. Over two billion people pray five times a day in the direction of the holy city of Makkah in Saudi Arabia.

Having a young man who realises the concerns of young people and who is close to their way of thinking in a top position in Saudi decision-making, will reflect positively on the Saudi economy and its relations with the world.

The close relations between Prince Mohammad Bin Salman and the progressive leaders in the neighbouring UAE may have played a role in the direction the young prince wants his country to take. He seems interested and influenced by the development of the UAE which has achieved remarkable growth across all areas, and hosts over 200 nationalities living in peace and harmony. Many young Saudis would like to see similar positive social and economic experiences being implemented in their own country.

The appointment of Mohammad Bin Salman as Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia and the decisions to appoint many young Saudis in key positions means that Saudi Arabia is rejuvenating. It means that Saudi Arabia’s throne will be stable for at least 50 years.

This is reassuring news for the Saudis and for a region where chaos is taking its worst form since the beginning of the Arab Spring in late 2010. Saudi Arabia needs political stability to achieve internal security and development and to maintain a regional balance of power.

It is in the interest of Saudi Arabia and the world that a young energetic man who has big innovative ideas will lead his country towards the future with confidence and openness.

It is also in the interest of Washington to support this positive direction, not only to confront Islamist extremism in the Middle East and the world, but also to promote lasting peace in the Middle East.

- Sulaiman Al Hattlan, a former Nieman Fellow at Harvard, is the founder of Hattlan Media, based in Dubai. He is the host of the weekly talk show, Arab Talks, on Sky News Arabia. You can follow him on Twittwer at @alHattlan.

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